A certain photo on the “Pomona Memes” Facebook page caught my eye last week. It featured a stock photo of a woman crying with the caption, “Just found out one of my friends is a Republican.” At first glance, this photo was hilarious—the 63 people who liked it seem to have similar sentiments. But the more I think about it, the more I believe we should be worried about the comedy in such images.
When I was applying to college, a liberal school was a must. My high school in suburban Ohio was so conservative that I was sure I was ready to be around people who shared similar political ideologies to myself. My zip code, in fact, donated the second most amount of money of any zip code in the nation to George W. Bush’s presidential campaigns. Growing up as a liberal in a conservative mecca, I was always conscious of my atypical political beliefs and always had to defend my views. In short, I was forced to question the political beliefs imbued in me by my parents. Why exactly am I a liberal? Finding answers to these tough questions only served to reinforce my political ideologies.
Politically, this is precisely what is wrong with Pomona College. As a whole, we are just too liberal. Pomona prides itself on its diversity, or at least ethnic and socioeconomic diversity, while often neglecting political diversity. I can honestly say that of the hundreds of people whom I have met in my six months at Pomona, I can count the open conservatives on one hand.
There is little incentive to question one’s beliefs when everyone shares exactly the same beliefs. It worries me that Pomona’s political homogeneity prevents us from asking the hard questions about the beliefs that we hold, and instead results in complacency. Few debates occur on campus that fundamentally challenge our political beliefs and cause the critical thinking necessary to respond to this adversity. We use straw man arguments to attack the weakest conservative positions, while rarely going any deeper than that.
At Pomona, there is a certain stigma associated with being a conservative or a Republican. In our quest to be progressive and inclusive, we have all but forgotten about upholding these same standards for conservatives. We not only tend to forget about the conservative opinion, but also have a tendency to perceive anything coming from a Republican’s mouth as irrelevant or wrong—simply because of its origin. The dreaded word “Republican” has nearly become a pejorative on campus, used as an insult to anyone and everyone who doesn't share the same views as we do. The stigma associated with being a conservative here manifests itself in the fact that many Pomona students are afraid of expressing their views for fear of judgment. As a consequence of this stigma, few Pomona conservatives are actually open and active about their political beliefs.
There’s no question in my mind that Pomona has reached a point at which it is just too liberal. The sometimes-hidden value of living around those who disagree with you is precisely how firm ideologies are founded. Life after Pomona will inevitably have more conservatives than it does now. Unless we learn how to respond to challenges from opposing views now, the worry is we never will.
The first step to remedying this is removing the stigma associated with being conservative on campus. Liberals should never view conservatives with so much disdain as to limit the freedom of expression of their peers. “If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise,” wrote Noam Chomsky, famed linguist and father of visiting history professor Aviva Chomsky, “we don’t believe in it at all.” As a community, we must learn how to accept and embrace the necessity of the conservative opinion. In doing so, we can only hope conservatives on campus become more vocal, allowing us to engage in the type of political debates we should be having in college.
So the next time you find out that your friend is a Republican, don’t cry. We all have something to learn from them.